Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lessons Learned

I was thinking today about my evolution as a woodworker. I've been interested in woodworking all my life, I can remember cobbling together shelves in our storage shed when I was 12, and there was this hiddeous box I made sometime in my early teens that managed to make it to college and back before it gave up the ghost. In my twenties I worked in construction and learned structural framing and then moved into trim carpentry. I changed carreers at 30 and while I was no longer building things for a living I was doing it at home. A 120 year old house in Charleston, SC, took up most of my free time fixing up and making right.

Some friends of mine were interested in a 1920's bungalow in Charleston and asked me to take a look at it for them. I really liked the layout and design and it was nice in that it had missed the remodeling craze of the 1970's. Not having alot of extra money they asked if we could make the kitchen cabinets instead of buying them, I'd made some cabinets before as a trim carpenter and fell into the research whole-heartedly. I checked out every book on making cabinets and on bungalows I could find in the county library. Now I had been a fan of The New Yankee Workshop and This Old House for years, so when I found Norm's books I was excited. I read these and thought "well thats not THAT hard". My friends ended up not buying the bungalow but it was too late for me. I checked out everybook they had on woodworking, doing this I discovered Gustav Stickley. That was it, I was hooked.

Now living in a house in an old single house in downtown Charleston is not conducive to fine woodworking, for one thing, no garage. What I did have was a one car wide gated driveway. I managed to collect a respectable collection of portable tools and plastic sawhorses. These I used as benches and workspace with the addition of 3/4 inch plywood. I purchased a plastic shed and a plastic closet from Lowes and made my storage area. I worked out in the heat under a 10 by 10 foot pop up tent like you see at the farmer's market. I had a serious case of garage-envy but I did manage to make some passable pieces there on Saturdays, when it wasn't raining, or too hot, or too cold....
Now, we loved the house downtown, historically correct lack of storage and everything, but I finally convinced myself that it was time to move, I wanted a workshop something awful. We found a lovely craftsman style house on a small culdesac of like styled but totally diferent houses. So I went from a house built in the 19th century that had been remodelled countless times, to one built in the 21st century based on as early 20th century model. Life was good. But still no workshop, but a beautiful space at the end of the driveway surrounded by mature trees. So I finally got to build my shop, my haven, my place to finally grow as a woodworker.
All my old tools and supplies are in that portable storage unit next to the shop.

This is where my skills started to build, I no longer had to completely take down my whole work area and put everything away in the little plastic sheds at the end of each day. I could leave my work and just walk away, come back when I had a few free hours or the next weekend and nothing would have changed. Its heated and air conditioned, keeps the humidity stable. Its got great lighting so night isn't a problem, and the door closes so the bugs don't eat you alive. I could finally buy some nice stationary tools, I could place my benchtop tools where I wanted them and not have to set them up on a saw bench whenever I needed them.
I noticed right away that with some better tools and a nice big flat assembly table my work was better right away. Now, in my shops third year I can look back on how my skills increased with each project. I learened alot about finishing when I didn't have to worry about where I was going to leave my piece while it dried. I learned alot about handtools when I could take my time and not rush through each process. I learned alot about wood when I had a place to store it and tools to joint and plane it so that I could use nicer stock. I learned that yes, you cannot have too many clamps when I clamped up a morris chair, an ottoman, and two sidetables on the same weekend. I learned to take my time sanding and that it was smarter to work up through the grits than to skip right from 80 grit to 150 grit. I learned by reading everything I can get my hands on. I learned by watching woodworking shows even if I wasn't thrilled about the project. I learned that there is a fantastic community of woodworkers out there to offer support and share their knowledge. And yes, I learned that developing woodworking skills is an evolution.
Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed -
there's so little competition.
Elbert Hubbard


Bama5150 said...

Hey, very cool look back into the making of a treefrog. What size is that shop? You got any interior pictures?

Brad Ferguson said...

there are interior pictures on the flickr group at TWW. The shop is 20x24, as large as I could make it due to home owners rules.

Margaret said...

It definitely makes a huge difference to have space to work in--no matter what your craft of choice is! You've received a blogging award, by the way! Stop by to pick it up.

Ronald Jones said...

You workshop looks great. I like the shade of green you chose, what a soothing color to see upon entering and leaving.